Give Up On Trying to Be Happy, So You Can Be Happy
I Just Want to be Happy
Have you ever said or heard someone say, “I just want to be happy?”
Oh, the sadness it evokes as it tugs at our heart strings. Such innocent simplicity! It sounds like such a beautiful, reasonable request. How could there be anything wrong with directly striving for happiness, and not stopping–until you ultimately achieve it?
There isn’t. Except that it’s impossible.
We’re not the only ones who noticed. According to a recent Psychology Today article concerning happiness:
A few scientists started to study this phenomena. What they found is that as people place more importance on being happy, they become more unhappy and depressed. The pressure to be happy makes people less happy. Organizing your life around trying to become happier, making happiness the primary objective of life, gets in the way of actually becoming happy.
What about the ‘Pursuit of Happiness’?
Similar to another article we wrote about Self Esteem, happiness is an elusive target. Happiness isn’t something that can be achieved by forcing it, or by pursuing happiness directly.
If the writers of our Declaration of Independence were present today, they would likely modify their famous line regarding inalienable rights from its present, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of That Which Leads to Happiness.
A little, but important change that, if embraced, would do wonders for people’s mental health everywhere.
Alex Pattakos, Ph.D. psychology author and blogger, believed that the writers of the Declaration were referring to this deeper sense of the word happiness, which would have included meaning and fulfillment.
Pattakos further protests that the word happiness has been downgraded from its more classic definition: experiencing a good, meaningful, and fulfilling life, to a mere description for the occasional fleeting emotions one receives from simple hedonism, and pleasure-seeking.
Viktor Frankl, famous psychiatrist, concentration camp survivor, and father of Logotherapy had this to say (many years before modern psychology caught on):
The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
In other words, discover the meaning in your life; dedicate yourself to a cause outside of yourself, and you will experience a deep level of satisfaction for your life. This idea becomes evident in the latter part of his quote:
Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.
Is Positive Thinking about the Direct Pursuit of Happiness?
While we at Little Change support practical positive thinking as a means to enhance overall well-being, it doesn’t appear that making positive statements or repeating affirmations could ever provide the deep sense of fulfillment that accompanies the soul that’s in pursuit of meaning.
Optimism, and realistic, positive thinking as a way of life remain great tools for warding off the extreme lows that come with our all-too-common default reaction to stimuli: assuming the worst. Practicing these things, along with reframing help us learn that the more positive assessment of a situation is often the more accurate one.
Positive thinking is about establishing patterns of thought that help maintain a more balanced state of mind. The best use cases for positive thinking does not include using it achieve instant happiness.
When used as an attempt to achieve happiness by direct effort, positive thinking often disappoints. In fact, many of positive thinking’s biggest advocates later become its biggest detractors. When its adherents were disappointed with the outcome of living at one extreme, they were quick to settle at the other extreme.
But the opposite of a wrong thing isn’t necessarily the right thing, and a reaction to a problem doesn’t mean it’s the solution. It’s just a reaction.
Should I Really Give Up Trying to be Happy?
Just about all of us want to be happy in the deeper sense of the word as it’s described earlier in this article. There is no reason to suppress this natural desire for happiness. This is about focus.
We should let go of our focus on happiness. When we monitor our internal feelings of happiness we become less happy since we rarely feel as happy as we’d like to feel. Unhappiness about our current lack of happiness makes more unhappiness. It’s hard to find happiness this way. Instead, we should focus on the things that lead to happiness; the things that give us a reason to be happy.
Just as laughter comes when we have a reason to laugh–such as someone telling a funny joke; happiness comes when we encounter reasons to be happy along our journeys toward discovering meaning, fulfilling lives.
Shift your focus from concerns about happiness at any given moment, and refocus efforts on discovering meaning, fulfillment and living out your values.
Let happiness come naturally. It will.